Crime Fiction


The Prey Novels

John Sandford published the first of his Prey series in 1989 but his hero, Lucas Davenport, is still interesting; and the plots are as fresh and gripping as ever…
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My all-time favourite author is John Sandford (the pseudonym of award-winning American journalist John Camp). I particularly love his Prey series, which features maverick cop/investigator, Lucas Davenport. I stumbled across the books in a library years ago and was immediately hooked. There’s something about Sandford’s writing that pulls you in and makes the books difficult to put down.

The Prey novels are mostly set in Minnesota, around the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul. Davenport specialises in hunting down the bad guys and he’s an unorthodox hard-man who often steps over the line to get the job done. But as Sandford’s villains are usually psychopaths or sociopaths, I don’t have an issue with the rule-breaking!

As with any series, there’s a cast of characters who appear and reappear, so you get involved with the people; and the plots are clever, high-octane, cat-and-mouse stories. I find Sandford’s writing style sharp and engaging… and funny. Of course, humour is subjective, but there’s realism in the banter between the main characters and I often find myself laughing out loud.

So many to enjoy
If you use a public library it’s rare to read a series of books in the right order. I’ve borrowed the Prey books when I found them, and bought copies from second-hand bookshops when I saw them. It’s not a problem to read the series in no particular order, and there are 28 books to enjoy, with the next (Neon Prey) due to appear in April 2019.

Several years ago, I decided to collect the paperbacks and now have two bookshelves devoted to John Sandford. Tracking down some of the early books was a challenge and some of my books are quite tatty, but now new reprints are appearing so I’ll upgrade where I can and continue to order new titles as they appear.

It would be strange if, over the years, I hadn’t enjoyed some of the books more than others. In a couple, for example, I haven’t found the plot or villain very convincing. But this is a series I dip into again and again as the mood takes me, and I regularly re-read the books I’ve particularly enjoyed. And, after all these years, I continue to follow Sandford’s publishing schedule closely. Sometimes I even make a note in my diary of when a new book should be available.

Crossing the line
Irritatingly, the UK publication dates seem to run to a timetable of their own. Golden Prey (book number 27) was published at the end of 2017, followed by Twisted Prey (number 28) in May 2018. In the UK, the paperback of Twisted Prey was available first. I ordered both through my local book shop but, as the Northamptonshire Library Service hasn’t been buying new books for more than a year now, had to cross the county border and join the library in Peterborough so I could read them in the right order.

Yes, of course I could have bought the missing book in hardback – but that would have bucked the trend on my bookshelf! And actually, I’m pleased I read them in the right order because the stories have taken a new line. Lucas Davenport is now a US Marshall and can now roam around the USA tackling big/difficult crimes; and he has some new sidekicks who are good value. The banter is just as good and Sandford has breathed new life into the series by moving Davenport onto the national stage. Reading the last two books in the right order has set things up properly.

And my latest venture? Well, the other week, when I couldn’t find anything to read, I decided to tackle the Prey series in order – from Book 1 (Rules of Prey, published in 1989) to Book 28 (Twisted Prey, published in 2018). And it’s been brilliant! I do read other books by other authors in between, but I’m working through the Prey novels at a steady pace and discovering new things in books I thought I knew well. I’m enjoying seeing the characters grow and develop as the series progresses, and yes, the stories still hook me every time.

Sandford isn’t just a one-series author. There’s a series of 11 books about Virgil Flowers which started in 2007 with Dark of the Moon, and had the latest title, Holy Ghost, published in 2018. Flowers is also an investigator in Minnesota, but he works in rural areas. He’s a gentler character than Davenport so the books reflect this but the humour is as sharp and the plots are engaging. There’s also a short series of four books about a couple called Kidd and LuEllen (computer hacker and cat burglar respectively) which was started in 1989 with The Fool’s Run and finished in 2003 with The Hanged Man’s Song.

If you enjoy gritty mysteries and haven’t tried John Sandford give him a go.
Cornish Eskimo

If you enjoy reading crime fiction why not come along to one of our meetings? They’re on the third Friday of every month, 2.30pm @ Oundle Library. It’s all very informal because we don’t have a set reading list. We do, however, enjoy a wide-ranging chat about the books we’ve read and enjoyed. Everyone welcome!